BY: Christine Peat, PhD
DATE: August 19, 2015
For many, the beginning of a new semester can be filled with a variety of emotional highs and lows: excitement about upcoming opportunities, dread about grueling class schedules and workloads, happiness at being reunited with friends, and curiosity about what the year ahead will bring. Between back to school shopping, organizing schedules, and perhaps moving back on to campus housing, it’s easy to get swept up in the chaos of re-orienting to school life. Before long, the stresses of being back in school and trying to balance academic pressures with social life can creep up and contribute to anxiety, low mood, and/or re-triggering body image/disordered eating behaviors. So before the semester begins, we thought it was a good idea to remind everyone that self-care and being mindful of your emotional health is always a great priority and might just help prevent some of that back to school stress. Below are 5 tips to help promote emotional wellbeing as you head back to school and throughout the academic year.
- Get enough sleep. College can be a time of hectic schedules that make it hard to get adequate sleep, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends anywhere between 7-9 hours of sleep for college-aged adults – and some might need between 10 and 11 hours to feel fully rested! Without this much needed rest, students can be more prone to stress and anxiety, poorer performance in class, and even car accidents due to “drowsy driving!” So set a sleep schedule and do your best to stick to it to feel your best all semester long.
- Incorporate moderate exercise. Moderate amounts of exercise can help provide stress relief after a long day of classes, boost energy levels, and even enhance memory and concentration! The great news is that you don’t need to spend hours in the gym or work with a personal trainer to get many of these benefits. You can simply go for a walk with a friend or get involved with intramural sports! And remember: the focus isn’t on calories burned or the amount of time spent in physical activity. It’s about creating a sense of vitality and getting you some much needed time away from studying and sitting in class.
- Get involved! Volunteering or working with a campus organization is a great way to promote emotional wellbeing throughout the academic year. Not only do you have the opportunity to make a real impact on your local community, you have the added benefit of meeting new people, achieving a sense of accomplishment, and developing new skills!
- Set realistic goals. Although you might be tempted to load yourself up with credits and sign up for several extra-curricular activities each semester, it’s important to take time to reflect on what goals you have for yourself this semester, this year, and perhaps throughout your college career. Setting goals that are too high can lead to exhaustion, feeling frustrated, and disappointed when goals aren’t met. Alternatively, setting goals that are too low might leave you with too much time on your hands and perhaps undermining your potential. So consider setting goals that are just out of reach, but are ultimately achievable (sometimes with help!).
- Ask for help. College can be an incredibly exciting time, but it’s also fraught with high expectations and multiple demands on time. Sometimes despite the best efforts to balance the stresses of life, students can find themselves struggling emotionally at some point during the semester. In fact, a recent study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of students who drop out of school do so due to mental health reasons, but only half of those students took advantage of mental health resources on campus. So whether it’s anxiety, depression, or body image concerns, it’s important to seek help when you need it. Find out what resources are local to you at: http://www.ulifeline.org/, https://www.nami.org/, and http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.